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News feature, January 9, 2007

Pound casts doubt on Landis; Tour winner hits back

Controversial WADA chief speaks about doping cases in sport

By Shane Stokes

Landis has hit out at Pound's "defamatory" comments
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Applauded by some for his directness, criticised by others for blasting athletes prior to an official guilty judgement, Dick Pound furthered his outspoken and controversial reputation over the weekend. The WADA chairman was quoted extensively in a large feature in the New York Times, and has caused waves with a sceptical - and somewhat unusual - assessment of Floyd Landis's Tour de France ride.

"He was 11 minutes behind or something, and all of the sudden there's this Herculean effort, where he's going up mountains like he's on a goddamn Harley," Pound told journalist Michael Sokolove. "It's a great story. Wonderful. But if it seems too good to be true, it probably is."

"I mean, it was 11 to 1!" he continued, referring to the reported testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio in Landis' positive sample. "You'd think he'd be violating every virgin within 100 miles. How does he even get on his bicycle?"

"You'd think he'd be violating every virgin within 100 miles. How does he even get on his bicycle?"

- Pound on the high ratio of testosterone-to-epitestosterone in Landis' sample

When contacted for a response to the quote, Landis and his defence team blasted the comment and said that it backed up their assertions that Pound is not acting in an impartial manner.

"Dick Pound's recent defamatory and absurd public comments - in the midst of a process where the highest ethical standards should support a fair and just outcome - highlight the dramatic and systemic problems with global anti-doping enforcement and adjudication," read a press release issued on Monday. " The 'leader' of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) continually makes public comments that by any standard are inappropriate, clearly false and are truly bizarre attempts to obfuscate the truth.

Richard Pound has been a controversial WADA chairman
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"This chronic behaviour by the head of WADA highlights a key reason for the type of disregard for basic standards of practice that encourages scientific misconduct at the Labaratoire National Depistage de Dopage (LNDD), which is accredited by WADA."

Landis charges that the comments were misleading, due to the fact that his defence team has stated that the skewed ratio was caused by a low epitestosterone reading rather than a high measurement of testosterone.

"Mr. Pound's published reference to the testosterone in my system proves he has not even bothered to review the facts regarding the unsubstantiated allegations against me," said Landis, who won the 2006 Tour de France but was then pronounced positive for a sample taken after his dominant solo win in Morzine.

"My testosterone levels were tested as normal following Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France and this fact is clear to anyone who cares to review the lab data. Absolute testosterone levels are not even part of the allegations. The LNDD tested a clearly contaminated sample of my urine (against WADA rules), and even then my testosterone levels fell into the normal to low range."

Part of Landis' defence has appeared to be based around efforts to discredit the French lab which analysed the sample in question. This approach was continued in the release. "Mr. Pound should conduct himself in a manner consistent with the seriousness of the unsubstantiated allegations against me and the damage they have caused to a great number of people. My livelihood and family have already been unfairly and severely damaged, the Tour de France has been unnecessarily tainted by an incompetent WADA lab, and cyclists, fans and sponsors alike have been hurt by the LNDD and anti-doping agencies that routinely ignore their own rules without regard for fairness or ethics."

'Playing the game the way it is supposed to be played'

Landis believes Pound's comments are uninformed
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Pound's comments on hockey are also likely to cause a stir, given that he admitted unapologetically to the New York Times that he has at time 'guesstimated' statistics to back his claims. In 2005 he told the London Free Press that: "you wouldn't be far wrong if you said a third of hockey players are gaining some pharmaceutical assistance."

However, Pound told the New York Times at the weekend that the level has not been officially qualified. "Sitting in his office, I asked him how he came up with that estimate," wrote Sokolove. "He leaned back in his chair and chuckled, completely unabashed to admit that he had just invented it. 'It was pick a number,' he said. 'So it's 20 percent. Twenty-five percent. Call me a liar.'"

Since taking up his role, the Canadian lawyer has become known for his outspokenness. He has clashed with Lance Armstrong several times in the past, including in the wake of the September 2005 l'Equipe claims that urine samples taken from the American in 1999 had shown traces of EPO.

"If you find EPO in a frozen urine sample, it means that it's been there since the beginning," he stated at the time. "There might be certain substances that even if the urine is frozen for a number of years that might disappear, but there aren't substances that appear. So if it's there it was there all along."

Pound with French Sports Minister Jean-Francois Lamour
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Armstrong hit back, criticising WADA's approach to the matter. He also called upon the IOC to initiate disciplinary proceedings against Pound in June of last year.

In the New York Times interview, Pound talked about his dealings with the seven time Tour winner - specifically a conversation they had about two years ago. "'Hello, it's Lance Armstrong. I just want to tell you I love my sport,'" Pound said, recounting a phone call he received. "And I said, 'That's great, Lance, but sometimes there's gotta be tough love.' It was fairly inconsequential, and we left it just short of the Hollywood producer thing - we'll do lunch."

When asked straight out by Sokolove if he thought Armstrong cheated, the WADA chief declined to give a judgement. "You've got to be kidding. Why would I get into a lawsuit with Lance? Let him deal with the problems he's created," he responded.

Pound has been outspoken about a number of high-profile US athletes, including Armstrong, Landis and Marian Jones. He dismissed suggestions that he is anti-American, pointing out that his wife is from Chicago and that three of their five children attended college in the U.S. However he does say in the article that the country can be naīve when it comes up to recognising potential problems in this area. "There aren't too many people who are prepared to point the finger at America and say: 'Hey, take off the [expletive] halo. You're just like everybody else.' That's a problem in America. America has a singular ability to delude itself."

Pound has admitted to 'guesstimating' some statistics
Photo ©: AFP Photo
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Due to finish his term as WADA chairman in November of this year, Pound said he remains fully committed to continuing the fight against doping. The notion of giving in and letting athletes take what they want is unacceptable to him. "You could look at them as just gladiators, these big cartoon characters, but that's somebody's kid out there. What if your kid had to do that just to play high-school ball?

"Here's the deal," he concluded. "The shot-put weighs this much. The race is so many laps long. You can't hollow out your shot-put and make it 12 pounds instead of 16. You don't start before the gun, run 11 laps instead of 12. And part of the deal is don't use these drugs. It's kind of an affirmation when you show up at the starting line. You are making an affirmation that you are playing the game the way it is supposed to be played."

Cyclingnews' coverage of the Floyd Landis case

May 29, 2009 - French authorities summon Landis and Baker
September 28, 2008 - Landis takes case to US federal court
September 10, 2008 - Landis signing with current Health Net-Maxxis team for 2009
July 1, 2008 - CAS delivers final blow to Landis legal challenge
June 30, 2008 - Landis loses final appeal
June 28, 2008 - Landis decision due Monday
March 12, 2008 - Landis' judgment day nears
October 21, 2007 - Landis files appeal with CAS
October 18, 2007 - AFLD takes another look at Landis case
Thursday, October 11 - Landis continues fight, appeals to CAS
Saturday, September 22 - UCI officially names Pereiro 2006 Tour champion, Landis case raises issues
Friday, September 21 - Landis' appeal denied, two year suspension levied

Cyclingnews' complete coverage of the Floyd Landis case

More Cyclingnews features